Set to defend his title and compete for his 21st Grand Slam at the 2022 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic’s plans took a surprising turn when the Serbian tennis player was held at the immigration hotel in Melbourne. Upon his entry, his visa was canceled leaving his fans dismayed, who were eagerly anticipating a record-breaking win for the tennis icon.
Novak is caught up amidst the pandemic’s ongoing vaccine controversy. When Novak arrived at the Tullamarine airport in Melbourne on January 5, he was held for several hours over his vaccine exemption concerns. Post the hold up, his visa was canceled by the Australian Border Force on the grounds of his anti vaccine stance. Novak is not double vaccinated against COVID yet, and has failed to provide appropriate evidence to support his exemption. Hence, he didn’t meet the entry requirements mandated by the country.
Novak claimed that he received a medical exemption from vaccination, on ambiguous grounds. In December 2021, Tennis Australia mandated a double vaccination status; a policy for the upcoming tournament. However, players could seek medical exemption to enter Melbourne without the 14-day quarantine period. Criteria for exemption ranged from acute medical conditions to adverse effects after the first dose, or a temporary exemption of 6 months for people who had recently tested positive. Since the process for exemption stays completely anonymous, Novak’s reasons for applying are not known. However, he had tested positive for COVID in December 2021, as per the evidence submitted by him to Australia.
So if everything was crystalised why was Novak stopped? According to reports, the federal government of Australia has repeatedly told Tennis Australia that recent COVID recovery does not exempt vaccination. “People who do not meet the Australian definition of fully vaccinated will not be approved for quarantine-free entry, regardless of whether they have received foreign vaccination exemptions,” read an official letter written by the federal health minister Greg Hunt which was sent to Tennis Australia in November, 2021. The guidelines sent out for the tournament later were not in agreement with the health ministry, leading to the Novak controversy. Making matters worse, he was clicked in Spain on December 30, 2021 but he claimed not to have traveled for 14 days prior on his Australian travel declaration form.
Since the visa process falls under federal matters, the player was deported from the country. Even though the authorities did not dispute the fact that he had an exemption in place, he could not be allowed to play under “health and good order” grounds. The decision was upheld by the federal court, to which Novak stated he was “extremely disappointed.” Back in April 2020 Novak took a stance against vaccines. “I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision,” he stated.